If, as popular opinion sometimes goes, printed books in general and public libraries in particular are dying, you couldn’t tell that from the Friends of the Osterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre, a group poised to hit he $500,000 mark in funds raised through book sales over the last 42 years.
Nor could you tell it from crowds at the annual book sale, now running through June 23. If past is prologue, you will likely see a steady stream of bargain hunters sifting through the cornucopia of used books and other media laid out with impressive effort by the Friends.
Of course, the evidence seems pretty clear that neither printed books nor public libraries are in imminent demise. Regarding the former, one need only look to history to doubt books were fated to disappear: So to, were live plays, and radio, and even scheduled television and staid old movie theatres. Heck, technology hasn’t even eradicated the Drive-in theater, though at least there it’s a closer call.
But there is also ample empirical evidence that books and libraries are surviving just fine, though like pretty much any business or institution in the age of the internet, they have had to adapt.
Yes, by one count, the amount of new digital content produced in a single year these days is several million times the combined content of every book ever written, but anyone who has surfed the web with any but a cursory view knows much of that content is, well, wishful rather than useful.
As of a few years ago, and presumably still today, public libraries in the United States outnumbered McDonald’s franchises, and knowing how ubiquitous the golden arches seem to be, that’s saying something.
Four years ago, the Pew Research Internet Project showed more people under 30 had read a book in the past year than those over 30 (88 percent for the millennials, 79 percent for their elders). Young people were also more likely to doubt they could find important information online (62 percent to 53 percent). And the youngsters were just as likely as their more mature counterparts to have used a library card in the last 12 months.
In 2016, the Pew Research Center had similar reasonably good news, finding 48 percent of those 16 and older had visited a library or bookmobile in the prior year, up from 44 percent in 2015 though down from the 53 percent high of 2012. Since 2013, of those who use a library, roughly 30 percent, giver or take a percentage point or two, said they visit several times a month at least.
There’s plenty of other data justifying hope in the survival of libraries and books, but it is best to see for yourself. Libraries remain important resources for those who lack internet access or a computer to use. They let you borrow movies for free, no streaming fee, no rental fee, no fee at all. They host community events that can bring huge grins to the faces of children.
And they hold book sales exposing the sheer depth and breadth of human knowledge and entertainment, available for a few dollars.
Consider stopping by the sale tent set up next to the Franklin Street library. There is a reason it has survived 42 years.
– Times Leader